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Senate battleground polls show Democrats in a tight spot

Senate battleground polls show Democrats in a tight spot

The map remains a major obstacle to the Democrat’s quest to flip control of the U.S. Senate. Though they can attain a majority with a net pickup of just two seats, their defense of 10 incumbents seeking reelection in states carried by Donald Trump in 2016 remains their critical challenge, according to the SurveyMonkey’s latest round of state polls conducted for Axios.

Our latest polls do show improvement for the Democrats, compared to our previous polling in February and March. Thanks to completed primaries and campaigns now fully in progress, we were able to test named Republican challengers in all states against Democratic incumbents. That change benefited the Democrat in five of the six states where we had previously tested against a generic opponent (“the Republican candidate”), moving from deficits to leads in Montana, West Virginia and Missouri and bolstering narrow margins in Wisconsin and Michigan.

While the data shows pickup potential for the Democrats in two states currently represented by Republicans – Arizona and Nevada – it also finds Democrats either trailing narrowly or facing very close contests in Florida, Indiana and North Dakota.

Impact of likely voter models
1 Table ordered to present 10 states with Democratic incumbents following 3 states with Republican incumbents

More complete findings based on the various likely voter models are available here.

When asked how their enthusiasm about voting compares to past Congressional elections, Democrats were more likely to say “more enthusiastic” than Republicans in all 13 states surveyed, with gaps ranging between six and eighteen percentage points. But while Democratic voters express more enthusiasm about voting in 2018, the results do not show enough of a gap, at least for now, to enable a sizeable Democratic turnout advantage hiding within the poll results.

Table of voters who are more enthusiastic about 2018 elections

The distinction becomes clearer when we ask voters about the chances they will vote in 2018. There the gap between Democrats and Republicans nearly vanishes. Democrats are more likely to report absolute certainty about voting in six states, Republicans are more certain than Democrats in five and absolute certainty rounds to the same percentage in two.

Table of people who are absolutely certain to vote in 2018

Turnout – who turns out and who stays home – will be a big part of the story of the 2018 elections. Unfortunately, pollsters lack a universally accepted method to identify which respondents are most likely to vote and also don’t have consensus about when to start applying their “likely voter” models. Thus, we apply several approaches to identifying “likely voters,” but do not see a consistent pattern across states.

For now, the most consistent finding from our results is that the Democratic candidates do best either among all registered voters or among those who say they are either absolutely or at least somewhat certain to vote. Republicans consistently do best in a probabilistic scenario based on modeling the 2014 election, not surprising since that election featured a considerable GOP turnout advantage. Beyond that, the outlook on how much Democrats might benefit from turnout remains hazy.

Our poll in Arizona reveals something highly unusual: The state's two incumbent Republican senators – Jeff Flake and John McCain – earn significantly higher approval ratings from Democrats than Republicans. In the other 12 states we surveyed, no senator, either Democrat or Republican, earns a higher rating from voters of the other party than from his or her own.

As evident in our recent national polling, mentions of immigration have increased significantly as the issue chosen from a list as mattering most right now. Mentions of immigration are up an average of 5 percentage points across the 13 states surveys – with increases ranging from 1 to 8 percent within individual states. Though somewhat muted compared to the patterns observed in our national data, the increase is generally larger among Democrats in these 13 states than among Republicans.

Percent who say immigration is an issue that matters most

Majorities continue to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), described as protecting “those who were brought into the United States as undocumented children from being deported,” in all but one state surveyed (North Dakota). However, support for the policy is off slightly – with declines usually in the low single digits – in every state except Ohio and Montana.

Percent of states who support DACA

Views of the economy over the past year remain far more positive than negative across all of the Senate battleground states, an aspect of public opinion that should be a central theme for Republicans. Across the 13 states surveyed, between 43 and 58 percent perceive the national economy as better off now than a year from now, while typically about half as many, ranging between 17 and 27 percent, say the national economy is worse off. The positive assessments are down slightly since March in 9 of 10 states surveyed with incumbent Democratic senators, but up slightly in all three of the states polled in April currently represented by Republicans. The timing of our first surveys may be the culprit: Our national consumer confidence tracking showed a slight, momentary dip in April.

Percent who say the national economy is better off than last year

While the shifts are modest, the net support for the tax law passed in December has declined slightly in 8 of 10 states since February (our earlier surveys of Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee did not ask about the tax law). The change is consistent with a slight decline in support for the tax law evident in our national polling.

Percent who approve of the tax law

Methodology: These SurveyMonkey/Axios online polls were conducted June 11 to July 2, 2018 among a total sample of 12,677 registered voters living in Arizona (n=1,290), Florida (n=1,080), Indiana (n=952), Michigan (n=978), Missouri (n=1,038), Montana (n=974), Nevada (n=1,097), North Dakota (n=457), Ohio (n=951), Pennsylvania (n=990), Tennessee (n=1,010), West Virginia (n=892) and Wisconsin (n=968).  Respondents for these surveys were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for each is plus or minus: Arizona=4.5, Florida= 5, Indiana= 5, Michigan= 5, Missouri= 5, Montana= 5, Nevada=5.5 North Dakota= 7.5, Ohio= 5, Pennsylvania= 4.5, Tennessee= 4.5, West Virginia= 5.5, Wisconsin= 4.5 percentage points. Interviews were offered in Spanish. The data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to reflect the demographic composition of registered voters in each of the 10 states. The crosstabs by each state are available here.